SAN JOSE, Calif. – This is what a Final Four sounds like: A thunderous ovation from Gonzaga fans inside the SAP Center for Jordan Mathews when the curtain calls started with 2:15 remaining.
This is what it looks like: Victory in hand and the program’s first Final Four clinched, Nigel Williams-Goss stood alone near midcourt with tears in his eyes.
“I just thought about the journey that it took to get here,” Williams-Goss said. “Transferring (from Washington) and sitting out, having ankle surgery last year and just battling everything that we went through this year.
“We had a plan for ourselves. We believed from Day One that we could get to Phoenix. We didn’t shy away from setting that goal. And to be 50 seconds away and kind of check off that last goal that I had, it was just a ton of emotion.”
Gonzaga knocked on the Final Four door twice before. The Zags didn’t bother knocking Saturday. They kicked the door down, trampling Xavier 83-59 in the West Regional final and delivering the biggest milestone yet in program history.
Coach Mark Few hugged his assistants and every player on the bench as the final seconds ticked away. Minutes later on a portable stage, Few held the West Regional trophy and asked the crowd: “How good were these guys tonight?”
Answer: As good as they’ve been all season. The top-seeded Zags (36-1) took apart No. 11 Xavier (24-14) at both ends of the court.
Gonzaga will face the winner of Sunday’s Florida-South Carolina game in a national semifinal next Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
West Regional most outstanding player Johnathan Williams had arguably his best game with 19 points, eight rebounds, three blocks and two steals. Williams-Goss hit four 3-pointers and scored 23 points to go with eight boards and four assists.
Josh Perkins and Jordan Mathews combined for five 3-pointers and 22 points.
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The Musketeers made their game plan clear early, packing the paint and taking its chances that Gonzaga couldn’t convert beyond the 3-point arc.
It backfired as the Zags drained eight 3s in the first half and 12 in the game. Five players connected from distance in the first half, which opened up space for Williams, Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins.
“I don’t know why they would try to do that,” GU guard Silas Melson said. “If you ask me we’re a team full of shooters. You can do that if you want to. They were giving us open 3s, sagging on our post feeds.”
Gonzaga had its best half offensively by far in the tournament, bolting in front 49-39 on 54.5-percent shooting.
There were fireworks at the end of the half. Williams-Goss spun inside for a floater in the closing seconds but J.P. Macura stunned the crowd with a 75-footer. Officials reviewed the play and determined it came after the buzzer, leaving GU’s lead at 10.
Xavier was a handful offensively, using dribble penetration to put foul pressure on Collins (three) and Karnowski (two) in the opening half.
The second half was a different story. The Musketeers managed just 20 points.
Xavier wing Trevon Bluiett, who averaged 25 points in the first three NCAA games, made 3 of 14 shots and scored 10 points. Williams guarded the talented 6-foot-6 wing at the outset. GU also had success with a zone defense for the second straight game.
“They run a lot of sets for him and he gets lot of easy shots in those,” Williams said. “He can play from all three levels, shoot the 3, make pull-ups and get to the rim. Like the South Dakota State kid (Mike Daum), you can’t stop everything but if you make life hard for them that’s even better.”
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